Water, edited by John Knechtel | Review by Jill Conner

Water (2009) is a forthcoming anthology from MIT Press edited by John Knechtel and consists of several essays that attempt to capture the subject of water in various conditions ranging from raw sewage to domesticated back-yard pools, while underscoring its significance as a vital component to the natural eco-system. While the first two essays by Knechtel and Timothy Stock wax romantic in an attempt to identify a very illusive subject that finds definition in its complex scientific properties, the photographs of Carolyn Turner, Meredith Carruthers and Susannah Wesley collectively reflect both its static simplicity and historical mystique. But no matter how one approaches the subject of water, it is a paradox that cleans, pollutes and destroys; it is life-giving as well as life-taking.

The human race needs water to live, but as the population continues to increase, its viability has been thrown into question. Christie Pearson’s essay titled, “The Public Bath and the City,” for example, reveals the anthropological manner in which human kind clusters itself around this particular resource cum product due to the fact that good supplies effectively build stable communities that are set up to nurture future generations. Although water is seemingly available everywhere, it is most often not fit for consumption. Robert Kirkbride, moreover, explores the fact that neighborly communities which grow around water can end up posing as a detriment to future water supply. Kirkbride’s essay titled, “On Water and Development: A Cautionary, Microcosmic Tale for a Watershed Near You,” identifies the natural cataclysms that are set into play when man-made irrigation and plumbing systems are extended into once secluded, untouched natural environments. Despite the fact that our bodies consist primarily of water, water is a tragic force when seen in the ocean or the mountains. When it connects with clouds, through a heightened level of humidity, it changes currents and generates large waves.

Water has become a primary subject of concern for an increasing number of artists, architects, scientists, filmmakers and writers. In 2002, the architectural duo known as Diller+Scofidio built the Blur Building over Lake Neuchatel in Switzerland. As part of the Swiss National Expo, this temporary structure could only be reached after crossing a long ramp, and it consisted of a cloud of mist that was pumped upward from the lake's water. Five years later, contemporary artist Roni Horn opened the Library of Water in Iceland for the purpose of offering visitors a place where one could either view the surrounding waters or look at the various ways in which Horn has successfully turned this element into her muse. Werner Herzog's Encounters at the End of the World was released the same year, in 2007, and documented the small civilization of scientists who live upon and study the local ice-scapes, in addition to the unique sea life that flourishes below, along the ocean's floor. In November of this year the Cynthia Reeves Gallery will be hosting H2O Film on Water which will appear soon after the release of Water.